By Tim Klingbiel
Men’s Reserve Grade
Coffs City United Lions (2nd in the regular season) will take on Northern Storm Thunder (4th in the regular season) at the C.ex International Stadium, with kick off to take place at 2:30pm on Saturday 9th September on the main field.
Coffs City United Lions
Though the Lions fell short of a reserve grade Premiership in 2017, finishing 9 points behind Urunga Raiders in second spot, a pair of strong semi-final performances against third placed Sawtell Scorpions saw them through to the grand final to face the surging Northern Storm Thunder.
After the disappointment of a 2016 season that saw the Lions finish 5th and miss out on a finals appearance, despite logging a goal difference that was 16 better than than any side barring Premiers Urunga Raiders, this year saw a greater level of consistency all round. A 2-1 opening day defeat to this weekend’s opponents Storm proved only a minor hiccup, as they went on to register nine wins and a draw in their next ten games.
A few speed bumps in the latter stages of the season saw them drop four of their last seven, including a surprise 3-2 loss to Westlawn, as the Premier League side pushed to seal the Premiership and the reserve grade squad was depleted as a result. But United were able to arrest the slide impressively, with disciplined performances in back to back semi-final wins over the Scorpions seeing them go the full 180 minutes without conceding.
With veteran defender Col Smith taking the reins for the year in addition to his playing duties – which even saw his versatility on display during a few stints with the gloves – the young Lions had an excellent mentor at their disposal. It would certainly appear that the Coffs backline, which leaked eight goals in their last three regular season fixtures, are finally reaping the benefits of Smith’s nous, having blunted a 66 goal Sawtell attack over a fortnight of structurally sound football.
The Lions’ first encounter with Storm did not go as planned, as they went down 2-1 at the Cove in Round 1, but they made amends at home in Round 10 as an attacking masterclass saw them come away with a 5-2 win to underline the legitimacy of their title credentials. They will no doubt be searching to recreate the formula they found during the latter fixture on Saturday, though the Thunder too have improved since that point.
With key attacker Gum Mayak likely to be required as a fresh player for the Premier League grand final and thus unable to feature in any capacity for the reserve grade side, Smith will more than likely call on wily campaigner Dan Wiseman and perhaps the flair of Dut Garang to deliver them much needed goals against a strong Thunder outfit. Though the Lions enter this one as favourites, it’s not cut and dried and they will require an excellent team effort to stave off a lively and dangerous Storm side on the afternoon.
Northern Storm Thunder
The Thunder have looked excellent this season, and in fact led the competition early in the piece as Urunga and Coffs had games in hand as a result of FFA Cup scheduling. While they fell away somewhat late on, due in part to unexpected 5-1 and 7-0 drubbings at the hands of Orara Valley Dingoes and Sawtell Scorpions, their fourth place finish ultimately saw them level on points with both the 3rd placed Scorpions and even the 2nd placed Lions, with only their substantially lesser goal difference consigning them to the final qualifying spot for semis.
Drawing Premiers Urunga Raiders for their two leg semi-final, the Thunder did not let this formidable challenge faze them in the slightest, holding a rampant 72 goal Raiders attack to nil in a scoreless first leg draw at the Cove before a hugely impressive 2-0 shutout at the Patch to seal their progress. Keeper Felix Sinzinkayo and defenders Jacques Ndizeye and Nathan Parkins have all been instrumental in the Thunder’s defensive improvement and all should feature for the decider.
The agility and quick reactions of Storm custodian Felix Sinzinkayo will come in handy up against a prolific Lions attack on Saturday.
Both Storm and Coffs head into this weekend’s grand final off the back of two straight semi-final clean sheets, and this statistic would suggest the weekend’s matchup will come down to a piece of individual brilliance from an attacker to break open either sturdy backline. In striker Enock Marc, attacking midfielder Manuel Rivera and winger ‘Zulu’, Storm possess a number of options in that regard, and the flair of those players will be an invaluable asset on what is likely to be an afternoon of fine margins and limited clear cut goalscoring opportunities.
The hungry Korora-based side well adapted to the rigours of backing up each week, and they possess stamina and endurance that is virtually unrivalled in this division. So thin have the upper levels of Storm’s senior player group been this season that there are occasionally only a few differences in personnel between the Premier League and reserve sides, and with the top Thunder team falling out of finals contention with a few rounds left in the regular season, a number of their players became qualified to take part in the second tier and it’s likely they will line up that way this weekend.
It’s the first time Storm have advanced to the grand final in this division for over a decade, and Championship success has only come to Plantain Road on a handful of occasions for any of its senior sides in this time, so a win would mean an incredible amount to the travelling faithful, some of whom have been around the traps since the days of the Korora Brumbies. They will throw everything at the Lions in search of glory, and on form they would seem a good chance to pull off the upset after disposing of the Premiers over the past fortnight. It’s going to be a high quality curtain raiser to the 1st division games and supporters won’t regret coming out to the stadium early for this one.
Women’s 2nd Division North
Majos FC (Premiers) will take on Westlawn Tigers (2nd in the regular season) at Wherrett Park, Maclean, with kick off to take place at 2:00pm on Saturday 9th September on the main field (Barry Watts Oval).
After a scare in the first leg of the semi-final that saw Maclean Bobcats hold them to a 0-0 draw and threaten to derail what had been an impeccable season up until that point, the Majos ladies came up with the goods in the second leg at their Rushforth Park fortress to clock up a 3-0 win and book a grand final meeting with Westlawn at Barry Watts Oval.
The two clean sheets across that semi-final tie meant Majos retained their incredible defensive record of just three goals conceded over what is now a stretch of 17 games this season. Goalkeeper Meek Heron has been a standout performer throughout the season – the first time the Majos women have entered this competition. Such an extraordinary level of structure and discipline at the back means they will enter the weekend’s decider as heavy favourites, but they will be looking to avoid a repeat of stalemate in the first leg semi that suddenly saw their mortality in the competition come into sharp focus, having appeared a sure thing at every juncture to that point.
Knowing the foundations behind them are so strong has given the Majos attack great confidence as well, and 77 goals this season at just over 4.5 goals per game proves they are eons away from a dour, bus-parking outfit. Every member of the team has scored at least once this season, and Majos’ Brittany Hegedus says that the diversity of the contributions from within the squad makes it tough to single out any individual heroes, with the team’s successes coming as a result of a strong collective effort. It won’t be all plain sailing though, as their opponents’ record of 68 goals scored and just eight conceded makes them a decidedly difficult proposition.
Though Majos claimed the first two meetings against the Tigers girls in 2017, getting up 2-0 at Barnier Park in Round 3 before claiming a 3-1 Round 8 victory at home, their latest encounter, a 1-0 defeat on the side field at Back Lane in Round 13 – just six weeks ago – will definitely have coach Matthew Osbourne and manager Lizzy Hegedus wary of what lies ahead in the south vs north Grafton derby. Trainers Lee Skinner and Austin Cooper have also been important contributors right through the season, in addition to the strong supporter base that follows the side around the Clarence region each weekend.
Add the commanding Premierships and grand final appearances of both their Women’s and Men’s 2nd Division sides to the NCF Club of the Year gong they collected at Saturday night’s awards ceremony, and one quickly sees what a successful season it has been for the Grafton club. With those two outfits accompanied by only the Men’s 3rd Division North team, the 13s Little Rippas and the 15/16s Falcons in competitive NCF divisions in 2017, Majos draw on a comparatively small player base when contrasted against some of the other Clarence powerhouses, but they have certainly made every effort count at senior level and full credit must go to all at the club for the behind the scenes work that has gone in to provide a foundation for on-field success.
Of the three goals the Rushy crew have conceded all year, Westlawn have scored two, in addition to inflicting upon Majos their only defeat in the home and away season. The one certainty heading into this weekend is that we will be in for a thrilling contest between the undisputed top two in this season’s Women’s 2nd Division North competition, and with the men’s match following directly afterwards, Majos will be looking to do a historic ‘double double’ of a Premiership and Championship each for its flagship men’s and women’s sides.
Carrying a 4-0 lead from the first leg against Yamba Breakers, the Junction Hill girls progressed to the final with another win in the second leg to cap off a successful season in 2017.
Despite a standout performance from Yamba’s keeper on Saturday to keep the scoreline on the afternoon to only 2-0, Westlawn strikers Lisa Linnertson and Gabby Marshall delivered excellent showings of their own in a game where the momentum was with the home side throughout. The Tigers’ own custodian, Amanda Daffey, has had an excellent season and plays each week without fear – coach Jo Powell believes her toughness, ferocity and overall presence will be key to inspiring the rest of the girls to give their best effort until the final whistle during Saturday’s showdown.
Coach Jo and manager Sharon Powell make a formidable pair of tacticians and have been at the helm of the side for the past decade, with Jo overseeing the development of the younger players from under 6s right through to under 15s. Jo made a handful of appearances at international level for the Matildas between 1996 and 2000, as well as at state league level for Northern NSW.
She returned to the local competition to lead Corindi Breakers to Champion of Champions glory in 2004, and later played for Tucabia Bears (now Yuraygir) and Westlawn as well as turning out in the Men’s 3rd Division competition with elder brother Chris for the now defunct South Services Gunners around the turn of the decade. Though she usually plays a part on the field as well as part of the backline, a pre-season knee injury has seen Sharon step up to playing duties in her absence and Jo says Sharon’s influence has seen her become something of a surrogate mother to the younger members of the side.
The Westlawn Tigers 2nd division women’s side have a massive task ahead of them on Saturday afternoon, but the spirit within the team has been excellent and they will be worthy opponents for the strong Majos side.
The squad’s introduction to the 2nd division competition has been fruitful thus far and the makeup of the side has seen a quite poignant pairing of mothers and daughters turning out alongside one another week to week. Starting the season with minimal expectations of success and anticipating at least a few rounds of teething problems, the Westlawn girls were surprised at how quickly they found their feet, taking to the field with confidence and delivering a courageous early display against Majos.
Jo says her side drew upon the experiences from this game to gain a greater understanding of the toughness and resolve required to be competitive in the upper reaches of the competition. The loss to Yamba in the replayed round 2 fixture in late July proved a turning point for Tigers and they registered a momentous 1-0 win over this weekend’s opponents, Majos, the following week.
Jo praised the team’s captain, Eilish Bender, as having been inspirational to watch throughout the season, and her presence will be pivotal in Saturday’s grand final. Despite her youth, her leadership qualities have been evident from the outset, and her determination and strength on the ball sees her constantly setting the standard and lifting the commitment levels of her team mates to new heights.
The team have played their games this season in the right spirit and were rewarded on Saturday night with the Fair Play Award for logging the lowest amount of disciplinary infractions league-wide. This is testament to the culture the Tigers girls have created of tough yet fair and wholesome football, and for this they should be proud.
The Tigers will travel to Wherrett Park on the weekend with the lessons of their first full season in 2nd division under their belt, and Powell says her squad’s understanding of the importance of consistency, effort, encouragement, humility and pride will be key as they plan to roar one final time this year – if they can get the job done against an excellent Majos side, you can bet that roar will be the loudest too.
Women’s 2nd Division South
Woolgoolga Wildcats (Premiers) will take on Macksville Stingers (3rd in the regular season) at the C.ex International Stadium, with kick off to take place at 12:15pm on Saturday 9th September on the main field.
A 2-1 home win over Bellingen Victory after the same scoreline in the first leg saw the Wildcats advance to a grand final that proves a fitting and richly deserved culmination of their undefeated season.
Club stalwart Kim Batty says she has been playing for Woolgoolga for 26 years and this is the first time that both the 1st and 2nd division Woopi sides have featured in grand finals in the same season. Coach Megan Wicken has done an excellent job with the 2nds girls and their 14 games so far this season have seen 12 wins, 2 draws, 65 goals scored and only 9 conceded.
Such an imposing record should justifiably see them installed as heavy favourites for the final against Macksville Stingers, a team they defeated 5-0 on both previous occasions they met in 2017, but the Wildcats will know better than to take this one lightly and between Wicken and Batty they have a wealth of experience to draw on for these types of situations.
The Wildcats have a strong squad to call on across two divisions, and with both women’s sides making a grand final appearance, it’s the most successful season for the Woolgoolga club in a long time.
As one of the region’s strongest clubs in terms of player numbers, Woolgoolga have a vast pool of juniors to draw on and with a 12s, a 14s and two 16s girls sides entered in this season’s competition, the future looks just as bright as the present for the Wildcats. Like their 1st division counterparts, a smattering of mature players alongside a number of younger recruits has given a great sense of balance to the 2nd division team.
The competition split made things difficult for Woolgoolga 2nds as they were unable to share players between teams, meaning rustling up numbers each week was often as much of a challenge as anything they faced on the field. But combined training sessions with 1st division throughout the year made the 2nds girls much more accomplished footballers and engendered a spirit of team bonding while preventing the divide that can sometimes arise within the senior ranks of a club.
Wicken believes the winning combination this season that has seen the girls qualify for their first grand final in 12 years is positive team spirit alongside proper utilisation of the strengths and qualities of each player. She praised both the depth of her squad and the individual commitment from each player and said that these factors were key in being able to go undefeated and rack up such impressive for and against numbers.
The grand final on Saturday will provide Woopi with the opportunity to finish the season on a high note and High Street will be abuzz this week as 1st division as well as men’s 3rd division are all having a crack at the most coveted piece of silverware in local football in their respective divisions. The Wildcats will hardly need the motivation to put their best foot forward this weekend and this should be an exciting game.
Though they went down 2-0 on Saturday to Boambee Eagles, an administrative technicality saw the previous week’s 3-1 defeat reversed to a 3-0 forfeit win to the Stingers, which meant they progressed to the grand final on aggregate. Two semi-final losses is hardly the way the Stingers would have wanted to advance, but they will now have to focus on the formidable assignment at hand and try their best to capture some momentum in training this week to get back on the right foot.
With an uncertain start to the season putting the Stingers on rocky ground, the timely acquisition of a new coach and manager early on proved to be just the tonic they needed for their fortunes to take a turn in the right direction. Struggling to muster up the necessary numbers to field a competitive side, the Stingers managed to entice a few last minute additions who were new to the game, and ultimately they were able to scratch together a squad.
Thankfully for the new recruits, the more experienced members of the squad were more than happy to take them under their wing and offered support and guidance throughout the season. Rapid improvement in the team’s quality of play was evident – after dropping three games on the bounce between Rounds 2 and 4, the Stingers would go on to win six of their next eight going into finals and suddenly seemed like genuine contenders.
By the end of the regular season, they had beaten every side in the competition bar the Premiership-winning Wildcats, and the girls conducted themselves with aplomb, winning the Fair Play Award at the presentation night last weekend. They had developed a solid foundation and appeared set for a strong showing against the Eagles.
While the on-field results didn’t turn out quite as planned over the last fortnight, the Macksville women have maintained a strong spirit throughout the squad. Stingers player Jayde Melville credited the sponsorship of local physiotherapy clinic Soulitude Health with engendering this healthy dynamic and helping the women bond as a team during weekly classes through the season.
It’s been a rather unlikely success story for the Stingers given their inauspicious start to the season that saw them with their work cut out just to pool together the necessary resources to participate in the 2nd division competition this season, but what would be even more remarkable is if they were to pull off a result against the heavily fancied Wildcats on Saturday. Having gone down 5-0 on both occasions during the regular season, it will be a mighty uphill battle for the girls in red to get something out of the game, but they will give everything they have to cause the Premiers some problems, and the one-off nature of grand finals means anything is possible on the day.
Men’s 2nd Division North
Majos FC (Premiers) will take on Yamba Breakers (2nd in the regular season) at Wherrett Park, Maclean, with kick off to take place at 4:00pm on Saturday 9th September on the main field (Barry Watts Oval).
After falling at the final hurdle in the 2016 season with a grand final loss to Yuraygir, Majos would have been having flashbacks after the first leg of this season’s semi final as they dropped a 1-0 to the same opponents after going through the 16 game regular season with a perfect record. It looked like a cataclysmic shock might be on the cards but the boys held their nerve in the second leg to prevail 2-0 at Rushforth Park and progress to the grand final with a 2-1 aggregate win.
The beginning of the season saw them pick up a few experienced players to bolster the makeup of the side, including Irishman Gary Masterson, who has been a constant threat in front of goal and has only failed to find the net on a handful of occasions. Consistently one of Majos’ best, Masterson’s creativity and skill on the ball have opened up many an opposition line, and the team will welcome his return on Saturday after missing both legs of the semi-final due to work commitments overseas.
Fellow northern hemisphere recruit, Gary Burns, has worked well in tandem with Masterson in attack. Burns’ stability and experience has offered Majos’ another weapon in attack, and his lethal right foot delivered a crucial goal on Saturday from just outside the box. The return of Daniel Fung to the Clarence Valley football scene in 2017 has been another asset for the red and white, and his invaluable experience from the highly competitive Gold Coast Premier League has seen him excel at this level.
But the new star signings haven’t been the only outstanding performers in this Majos team. Long time Maclean Bobcats striker Fraser Robinson, a key conspirator in that side’s 2009 Premier League grand final triumph over Coffs, has been at his devastating best this season, and claimed the golden boot with 24 goals. Unfortunately for the regular Majos skipper, he will miss the grand final due to suspension, having picked up a yellow card in each of the two semi-final legs.
In Robinson’s absence, solid and dependable defender Adam Bancroft will lead the boys from the back, and he has been another of the key performers throughout the season. The midfield engine room will receive a valuable shot in the arm with the return of the hard working Bryce Jones who has been out for the past fortnight.
Despite being shorn of perhaps their biggest attacking threat in Robinson, the sheer depth of this Majos side means there are a number of options to call upon to fill his boots. Coach Matt Green says they will be approaching the grand final with the same attacking mentality they have exhibited all season, and plan to take the game right to the Breakers from the opening whistle. With the four commanding wins they hold over the Breakers this season all coming with their top scorer present and accounted for at the apex of the attack, this weekend represents a different challenge but one the Majos boys will certainly be well up for.
Breakers 2nds struggled for numbers for the majority of 2017, but a solid dose of good old fashioned hard graft saw them fight tooth and nail to clinch second spot behind only the Majos juggernaut. That this finish saw them register 24 points to Majos’ 48, though, is a telling statistic of the gulf between the sides during the home and away season and the magnitude of the task that faces the yellow troops on Saturday’s trip to Maclean.
Youngsters Jack Cooney, Liam Evans, Nathan Hollis, Alex McConnell and Nathan Wooldridge have come through the Breakers youth system and are now in their third year of senior football, and Yamba committee member David Groth says the flair and style that helped them dominate the junior divisions is translating well at senior level.
Though their head to head record with Majos this year saw them concede an eye watering 26 goals over four games while scoring just one, the Breakers believe the 11-1 and 7-0 defeats sandwiched in amongst that series do not tell the full story, and captain-coach Rock Bailey will go into Saturday’s showdown with a full 30 man squad available for selection.
The Breakers are of the belief that the lineup they put out on Saturday afternoon will be their strongest, fittest and freshest to feature against Majos yet, and they will look to take the Rushforth Park-based side into deep waters just as Yuraygir were able to manage in the first leg of the semi-final.
The brains trust at Yamba believe the boys are peaking at the perfect time, and their resounding 4-0 victory over Coutts Crossing Cougars in last week’s semi-final second leg – to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit no less – is being spoken about as a season best performance.
They will need all that and more if they are to get past a side perhaps only rivalled by Boambee Eagles women’s 1st division for the title of most dominant throughout all NCF senior competitions in 2017, but there is a quite confidence within the ranks that the upset of the year could well be on the cards. There is absolutely no doubt that main event of the Clarence grand finals at Wherrett Park will be worth watching, and spectators would do well to get to the ground long before the 4pm kick off to take in the action from the prior games on what will be a real festival of football for the northern clubs.
Men’s 2nd Division South
Nambucca Strikers (Premiers) will take on Corindi Breakers (2nd in the regular season) at the C.ex International Stadium, with kick off to take place at 10:45am on Saturday 9th September on Field 2.
The 2017 Premiers have rolled into their fourth grand final appearance in five years, disposing of an undermanned Boambee side in the second leg of their semi-final. Fitness and squad depth were telling factors on the afternoon as a close 2-0 first half blew out to a final score of 7-0 – their opponents charitable with three own goals and a penalty conceded – giving them a commanding aggregate victory after a 3-1 away win in the first leg.
It came at a cost though, with attacker Ryan Flack’s long awaited return cut short by what looked to be a reoccurrence of a serious knee injury. With the tie already won by that point, the late second half cameo on the dusty, rock hard Coronation Park surface seemed to be fraught with much more danger than potential upside for Flack, who may instead have returned the following week on the much more forgiving, carpet-like stadium deck with much more on the line, but alas it would appear that opportunity may now be out of the realms of possibility.
The Strikers squad was bolstered this season by several new recruits including a number of emerging talents from the club’s 17s side. Two regular starters suffered season ending injuries just a few games in, and the 17s were called upon to play a much more significant role than initially anticipated. However, they have deputised admirably and look to have made their mark on the competition in a short time. With such a deep roster to call on, coach Dan Flack has a task on his hands to whittle his playing group down to a grand final 16.
The 2nd division competition this season was hardly an exercise in momentum and consistency, as multiple forfeits and the mid-season withdrawal of Sawtell brought the Strikers a degree of frustration. Ultimately, however, they were able to seal the Premiership by 2 points from this weekend’s opponents, the Breakers, in doing so logging both the competition’s best attack and best defence. The latter statistic was in part attributable to new signing Darragh Meade in goals, as well as Brad Wilkes and Shawn Snowden who have been solid at the back all year.
Within the Strikers midfield are decent helpings of pace and flair, with Carlos Justo producing two well placed chips from range in consecutive weeks and Mark Williams putting in a lot of mileage to make life difficult for opposing sides. The size and strength of Clay Urquhart up front is always a challenging assignment for any defence to deal with and he too has looked confident in front of goal throughout the season.
Urquhart says the key to the Strikers’ successes thus far in 2017 lies in the camaraderie within the squad and the fact that the boys all work hard for one another both on and off the pitch. The enjoyment they have been experiencing on the field has translated to their passionate and dedicated supporters, who travel in numbers to away fixtures like perhaps no other club in the division and always bring a sense of atmosphere to the occasion. They will no doubt be out in force once again for the big one on Saturday morning and will look to spur the Strikers on to higher honours.
Though Heads have not yet been able to defeat Corindi this season, Urquhart says he expects a physical and intense match and that the form guide is essentially rendered irrelevant for occasions of this magnitude. It should be a spicy and entertaining fixture and fans would do well to get down to the stadium for the early kickoff to witness a real footballing battle.
The Breakers’ excellent home and away season saw them fall just two points short of the heavily favoured Nambucca Heads side, and the thinness of that margin was attributable to their success in their head to head series with the Strikers. With a 2-2 home draw in Round 6 and 1-0 home and away wins in Rounds 12 and 16 respectively, the Breakers would seem well positioned for a tilt at silverware on Saturday afternoon.
A tough two legged semi-final for the club that encompasses the Corindi and Red Rock catchment was evidence of the fine margins between the top three sides in the competition this season. After twice going down 5-1 to Bellingen during the regular season, with a 2-2 draw coming in between those heavy defeats, a 2-1 reverse at Connell Park in the first leg of the semi meant the yellow and purple men had their work cut out for them heading into the second leg at the Beach Reserve. But Steve Vines’ side pulled out a stellar performance when the chips were down to storm home 3-1 and book their tickets to the decider, prevailing 4-3 on aggregate.
A new squad who have come together for the first time in 2017, Vines says the Breakers have combined to become a formidable force, and the skill within their ranks allows them to implement his footballing philosophy to great effect. Vines praised the discipline and experience of his players and believes these traits will stand them in good stead to head into the final unfazed by the gravity of the occasion.
Vines’ philosophy – attractive attacking football when in possession, coupled with discipline and rigidity in defence – has certainly paid dividends against the Strikers so far, and the character of his boys certainly cannot be questioned either. This Breakers outfit seem to thrive with their backs against the wall, and Vines says there is a great sense of conviction throughout his squad that they will come away with the chocolates on Saturday.
As they have proven twice already this season, it only takes one goal to win, and against a scrupulous Heads defence that has only allowed 15 goals over their 18 games so far, it’s not likely to be a cricket score. This will mean the Breakers’ dangerous front men, some of whom are veterans of the Woolgoolga Wolves Premier League squad of bygone days, will need to be at their clinical best and bury whatever half-chances fall their way.
Corindi will meet the Strikers cavalcade with stern resistance and they never give an inch when fighting for the ball from the first minute to the last. There’s little doubt this game will live up to its billing as a bruising encounter between two teams who put it all on the line every week, and the Breakers faithful will be confident that the titanium tackling style of their boys will allow them to come out on top in the gruelling battle of attrition that should play out.
Men’s 3rd Division North
Yamba Breakers (Premiers) will take on Coutts Crossing Blue (2nd in the regular season) at Wherrett Park, Maclean, with kick off to take place at 12:00pm on Saturday 9th September on the main field (Barry Watts Oval).
The Breakers 3rds took out back to back Premierships by a handsome margin of 8 points over this weekend’s opponents Coutts Blue. Edging into the final on the back of a 3-2 aggregate semi-final triumph over Westlawn Panthers – the 1-1 second leg of which may have had a few hearts in mouths at the Yamba Sporting Complex as the Panthers went within a whisker of sending things into extra time – they will look to improve on what was an unexpectedly narrow margin of victory by the time the season’s most important fixture rolls around on Saturday.
The success of the Breakers campaign has been built on a rock solid defensive structure, having conceded just 22 goals over 20 games in 2017. Breakers legend Rod Menzies, a veteran of the club’s brief foray into the heady heights of Premier League in 2010, has been solid all season between the sticks, and with defensive enforcer Matt Long just in front of him helping to call the shots, it’s been a tall order for opposition teams to find the net at any point in 2017.
That factor was on display during both of the prior encounters between the Breakers and Coutts Blue this season, as the men in yellow kept two clean sheets in 1-0 and 3-0 victories. The margins in those two games were hardly blowouts, so it’s fair to expect a very tough contest at Wherrett Park on Saturday afternoon.
A staggering 99 goals from 20 games for their opponents means it may well be a case of the immovable object meeting the unstoppable force, and it will definitely be intriguing to see just how that contest will play out with glory on the line. The Breakers’ own attack have been slightly less prolific, with 72 goals in 20 games, and will need to take their chances with ruthless efficiency this weekend.
Coutts Blue’s grand final loss to the Breakers in 2016 will have them well and truly motivated to avoid a repeat dose of heartbreak and the Yamba boys will have to put in from kick off until the final whistle if they are to get home and bring another piece of silverware back to Angourie Road. Coach Dan Griffin says the lads are fired up to get the job done, and consecutive Premiership/Championship doubles would really underline the Breakers’ dominance at this level of the Clarence competition in recent times.
Coutts Crossing Blue
Coutts Blue started the season with their backs against the wall, having lost a number of squad members from the previous season, but some canny recruitment work meant they were ultimately able to entice the vast majority of those players to return during the early rounds. The addition of a couple of new signings filled the gaps and once again the Coutts Crossing side appeared a strong proposition.
Having fallen just short of grand final glory in 2016, Blue put together another successful home and away campaign this time around and will be champing at the bit to go one better. After a 4-1 first leg win over fellow Wajard Park denizens Coutts Maroon, Blue turned on a 13-0 thumping in the second leg to progress to the main event in emphatic style.
Captain and centre back Jack Connor has been a standout player each week, while hard working midfielder Ryan Sheather gives his all to make sure the ball stays with a blue shirt for as long as possible. New signing Hugh Cameron up front has proven himself a goal scoring machine and may well be Blue’s biggest threat this weekend, as he hopes to give the stubborn Breakers backline some genuine headaches.
The return of a few injured players in recent weeks as well as the excellent form of Matt and Robbie Godwin throughout the finals series has lifted the spirit of the Coutts Blue squad, and with 8 wins in their last 9 – the only blot on that ledger coming in the form of a 2-2 home draw with 5th placed Maclean Green in Round 18 – they appear to have found season best form at just the right time for what will be a tough matchup on Saturday.
Coutts’ previous encounter with Yamba ended in a narrow 1-0 defeat, but the blue and maroon will feel they have improved since then and club secretary Kaycee Wilson says their mix of youth and experience alongside a liberal dose of ambition has them well and truly ready for the challenge that awaits them at Wherrett Park. The Coutts cheer squad have been faithful attendees throughout the season and Wilson expects them to be out in force to spur the lads on towards grand final glory.
Men’s 3rd Division South
Woolgoolga Wolves (Premiers) will take on Corindi Breakers (3rd in the regular season) at the C.ex International Stadium, with kick off to take place at 10:00am on Saturday 9th September on the main field.
Woolgoolga’s player drain from its senior men’s sides began a couple of seasons ago when the Premier League and reserve grade sides withdrew from the competition, and a further mass exodus at the end of 2016 saw only four combined players remaining from the 2nd and 3rd division squads going into this season. But the club appear to have risen from the ashes and managed to put together a single, very competitive men’s side for 2017 in the form of the Wolves 3rd division boys.
So competitive, in fact, were the Wolves that they tallied have tallied 18 wins from 20 games so far this season, only falling to Sawtell 2-1 and Northern Storm by the same scoreline. Both of those defeats saw them understaffed, the midweek catchup at Toormina rendering the attendance of a few key players an impossibility, while an unfortunate mélange of circumstances saw them take the field light a few players against the second placed Storm Troopers.
Riding a five game win streak – including three straight over Sawtell with 14 scored and only 2 conceded – the Wolves look a tough out for anyone and will justifiably see themselves as favourites heading into Saturday’s matchup with the Breakers – who they have yet to concede against in two encounters this season, coming away with 2-0 and 3-0 wins.
Despite the seismic changes in composition the Wolves senior setup has undergone in recent times, the nucleus of the side is still long time Woolgoolga servants. Brothers Luke and Ben Wighton alongside Adam Watkin came through the club’s junior system and turned out for the Wolves Premier League side in years gone by, while veterans Scott Wighton, Terry Allen and goalkeeper Craig Gibson have been part of the furniture at High Street since days of yore. Former Northern Storm striker Billy Irvine has returned from a niggling knee injury that kept him away from the game for some time, and his presence offers another dimension to the Wolves attack.
Woolgoolga will do battle with Corindi in this weekend’s Men’s 3rd Division South grand final with Woopi entering the tie as favourites having taken home Premiership honours in 2017.
The club’s main aim at this stage is to use their strong 3rd division results as a platform to move up into the 2nd division competition next season. Should they continue on their current trajectory and carry the momentum of 2017 to the next tier, the endgame for the Northern Beaches club is a Premier League return.
Though this is likely to take time, with legions of former players having moved on to pastures new and the absence of a 17s boys side meaning an influx of junior talent is still some way off being a viable prospect for the senior squad, Woopi are putting the right structures in place to allow this scenario to move from pipe dream to reality. They already seem to have the attitude factor down pat, with their excellent disciplinary record seeing them pick up the Fair Play Award at the NCF awards night on Saturday.
With a squad aged between 17 and over 50, the boys in blue founded their play upon the development of a miserly defence – conceding only 19 goals in 20 games so far – and defender Terry Allen says that although they have rarely won big, they have been solid right across the park. It is this attribute that will stand them in good stead both for a result on Saturday and to make a mark in the higher divisions in years to come.
After splitting their first three meetings with Northern Storm Troopers in 2017 – a win to each side in the home and away season and a draw in the semi-final first leg – the Breakers finally edged ahead in that head to head contest at just the right time, picking up a crucial 2-1 win at Korora to advance to the decider. Curiously, neither side was able to win at home during that four game series, but that won’t bother the Breakers who will travel to the stadium on Saturday searching for an upset victory over the Premiers.
Breakers coach Kelvin Bennett says that the first half of the season was tough for his boys as they alternated wins and losses, with four victories and four defeats between rounds 1 to 8. A player eligibility issue saw the men from Corindi lose three points from their season tally against opposition they would ordinarily expect to defeat handily in Dorrigo Highlanders, but despite that setback, Bennett credits his players for the way they dug deep to win their last seven games of the season and qualify for the finals series.
Bennett says that despite his team going through the 2017 season without training, they have managed to achieve decent results by relying on heart and determination. Though he notes that the Breakers do possess a number of standout players with the ability to swing the results of close games in their favour, the results thus far have been attributable to a collective effort, and the yellow and purple have worked well in tandem to break down opposition sides with persistence and physicality.
The Rindi boys freely admit to harbouring no real expectations for the grand final against their heavily favoured opponents, who on paper would appear to be a more organised and well drilled unit with aspirations of contending in higher tiers of local football in the coming seasons. But a string of eight wins and a draw in their last nine games would seem have the Pacific Street contingent in a much better position to challenge the Wolves than their most recent meeting in Round 13, where they went down 2-0.
Bennett knows his men will play hard and the beauty and mythos of grand final encounters lies in the fact that such fixtures are essentially one off, standalone events where any permutation of results becomes possible. Having tasted grand final success in this competition on several occasions in the past few years – 2006, 2009 in the now defunct Men’s 4th Division competition, 2010 and 2011 where they also won the Zone Championship on both occasions, 2013 and 2015 – the Breakers certainly will not be left wanting when it comes to experience, and it is this factor that gives them every chance of pulling off the upset to bring silverware back to the Beach Reserve once again.